Why Going Vegan Was the Best Choice for Me (The Hard Part Isn’t About the Food)
“I consider my dog my best friend,” explained Alice Ma, a registered dietitian based in Washington who doesn’t eat animals. “In the same way I would not eat my dog, I won’t eat other animals.” For Alice, healthy means eating vegan and she finds ways to incorporate that philosophy into all parts of her work and life. I talked with her about how she found veganism and why this way of eating has made a big impact on her life and the lives of others.
20 people, 20 stories of what healthy means for them in 2020.
My Healthy: Veganism
What does “healthy” mean to you?
Healthy means a balance of eating a diet that makes me feel good, that supports my ethical beliefs, and that is also enjoyable. I live by the 80/20 guideline and I don’t restrict myself when it comes to occasional treats.
You’re a registered dietician. Tell me more about the 80/20 guideline.
I would say it’s more of a general rule; I’m not too rigid about it. Most of the time, I follow a pretty healthy diet but I don’t worry about the little things. It’s okay to cut yourself some slack and indulge every now and then, like around the holidays, on the weekends, at parties, and during special occasions.
What eating style helps you feel your healthiest?
I am vegan and that means I eat in a way that reduces the suffering on sentient beings or animals. I eat in a way that I believe doesn’t harm animals. That means, I do not eat meat, dairy, eggs, or honey.
What were your goals when you made that change?
I wanted to do as much as I can to protect animals and the environment. I believe that animals have feelings and they suffer. A long time ago, animals weren’t farmed with torture and brutality, the way many of them are today. Today, if it has feelings, I don’t want to contribute to its suffering.
I also feel that climate change is a huge issue. I believe that not eating meat helps reduce the impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
How did you make this change? What motivation pushed you on?
I always thought about being vegetarian. Growing up, I felt bad about eating meat. But my Chinese family was so closed off to my being vegetarian, so I really didn’t go vegetarian until I was 24 or 25. After college, I moved out of my family home and decided this was the right time to do my own thing. I joined a vegetarian society that had monthly potlucks that were mostly vegan food. At the end of each potluck, we’d discuss animal welfare or climate issues. Exposing myself to that sort of conversation gradually encouraged me to go fully vegan. After I learned more about animal welfare, I decided I didn’t want to contribute to animal suffering at all.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of being able to live a vegan lifestyle while still eating out, dating an omnivore, visiting relatives and eating holiday meals, working in food service, and practicing a minimal-waste lifestyle. I’m proud I became vegan at the same time I was learning to cook for myself and living on my own for the first time.
I am also proud that I was able to begin and sustain this lifestyle independently. I live in a small town with very few vegan options and a very small vegan community. I’ve been on my own since the very beginning, but through learning recipes from the Internet, staying true to my beliefs, and not being too hard on myself when I make a mistake, I have come a long way.
Try some recipes: A Week of Easy Vegan Dinners
So what does keep you going? Lifestyle and habit changes are famously hard to make and keep. Do you have a secret?
I struggle most in social situations. People can be unnecessarily rude to those who follow a vegan lifestyle. Social situations can be a little difficult sometimes, which is why I hardly ever bring up my food choices in conversation. What keeps me going is remembering why I started this lifestyle in the first place. I chose to be vegan to benefit the animals. I am motivated to help reduce climate change. I know I can be vegan and still be healthy. And what I eat is my choice, not anyone else’s.
What’s the one food you love the most?
Tofu spring rolls with peanut sauce. Plus, a fresh, stinky durian [a southeast Asian fruit noted for its strong aroma that tastes savory, sweet, and creamy].
If you were to recommend a vegan way of eating to someone else, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them?
As a registered dietitian, I recommend not going into it completely blind. I’ve certainly seen individuals go vegetarian and simply remove meat from their pasta; eat a burger made of a portobello mushroom; or just eat vegetables and not much else. There are situations where you’ll have to do that, but I definitely don’t recommend it as a daily habit. Instead of eliminating, try replacing them with great protein substitutions like beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh. For nutrition information, consult a licensed registered dietitian either in person or online.
Also remember that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” vegan. I’ve made quite a few mistakes in the last five years, and I’m certain they will still happen now and then. Every person who practices veganism has their own definition of it and motivation for why they do it. There’s more than one way to practice veganism, and you are free to define it however it works best for your situation.
What Is Veganism? Start Here.
My Healthy 2020: 20 People, 20 Healthy Choices
Every January people make changes to improve their health. But which ones actually make a difference? We’re sharing the stories of 20 people who changed their lives for the better and stuck — thanks to choices that are individual, diverse, and sometimes wildly different from each other. Read their stories here throughout January. We hope they inspire your own journey to finding your own, unique, individual healthiest 2020.